Lies and realities in the vaccine race


> Whether such vaccine diplomacy is a way for Beijing to redeem itself or a way to burnish its appeal as a responsible major power is a matter secondary to countries desperate to prevent the pandemic’s spread and to kickstart their recovery.
> Political partisanship should end when pressing national interests like public health and economic recovery are on the line.
> We should exercise due diligence, research as much as we can and even ask authorities who could back up with rightful information.

Lies and realities in the vaccine race
Austin Ong
February 11, 2021

The huge global demand for limited vaccine supply coupled with an ever-evolving science and a worried public bombarded with misleading and incomplete information has posed challenges to policymakers as they chart an inoculation roadmap to arrest the Covid-19 health crisis and put the country’s economy back on track. Sensational and skewed social media posts and experts with conflicts of interest confound government’s attempts to canvass views from authoritative sources.

Public good or private profit
As countries worldwide race to undertake mass vaccination, one must understand that no single supplier can meet any country’s demand in the short run. And because of the more contagious and lethal strains emerging, no one is willing to take more risks in playing the long game. Thus, the race to develop vaccines and the rush to corner supplies. It’s understandable for countries developing their own doses to prioritize their own people.

Thus, for China to pledge to make its vaccines a public good and to reach out to vulnerable developing countries is laudable. In contrast, WHO chief Ghebreyesus warned of “catastrophic moral failure” as rich countries dominate and control vaccine supplies and global leaders like the US continue to refuse joining the Covax facility and its promise to protect the profits of its pharma companies. The latter is understandable given the enormous resources that were put to bear to fast-track vaccine research and manufacture knowing that an early release can help turn things around. But for some so-called “nationalist-experts” to demonize one, while staying quiet on the other at this critical juncture in the vaccine race shows which interests they carry.

Whether such vaccine diplomacy is a way for Beijing to redeem itself or a way to burnish its appeal as a responsible major power is a matter secondary to countries desperate to prevent the pandemic’s spread and to kickstart their recovery. This would explain why most of the country’s neighbors like Asean’s most populous nation and largest economy Indonesia early on have worked with China to do joint research and development of such vaccines. President Joko Widodo’s televised vaccine shot during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last January 13 is a culmination of this collaboration. In keeping with his country’s pledge, Wang Yi in his visit to Myanmar, Brunei and the Philippines also assured these Southeast Asian countries access to China-made vaccines.

Aside from Indonesia’s order of 125 million doses, orders for Chinese vaccines were also made by Brazil (100 million), Turkey (50 million) and Malaysia (14 million); our Asean neighbors Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore have already secured millions of doses for their population. These countries, including the Philippines, are also competing to secure doses from Western suppliers, as well as from India and Russia — as should be the case.

Despite raging for over a year, new pieces of information about Covid-19 are still coming out. As recent reports show, even Western vaccines revealed side effects and more data from late-stage clinical trials are illuminating new insights for science to make the necessary calibrations. Such information allows governments to adjust their vaccination programs, such as foregoing inoculation for high-risk populations like the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. Germany, for instance, warned against the use of AstraZeneca for those aged 65 years old and above, while Pfizer demonstrated side effects and lower effectivity rate for Asians. The Philippines should keep itself abreast of these developments and work with the international community to encourage pharma companies and countries embarking on their mass vaccinations to be forthcoming in sharing such vital information. But far from relying on advertisements and a carte blanche pass for Western vaccines, the country should do its due diligence and ascertain facts from fake news or deliberate misinformation.

Affluent United Arab Emirates (UAE), which boasts of thousands of migrant Filipino workers, was the first country to use Chinese vaccines for its mass inoculation program last month. Thus far, no adverse case has been reported.

Be open and learn from and work with all

Singapore, Israel and the UAE are reported to have nearly completed their mass vaccinations. Despite the political upheavals in the US, they have already vaccinated more than 2 million people. More than 20 million have been vaccinated in China, with targets of reaching 50 million by February. Vietnam’s strong central government, stringent measures and hardworking and disciplined population enabled them to have one of the lowest infections in the world. This explains how their GDP per capita overtook the Philippines in 2020 and why their economy became one of the few bright spots as the world plunged into one of the worst economic slumps. When these countries fully reopen their economies to the world, the gap between nations will only widen.

The UAE successfully completed the 30,000-people third-phase clinical trial with 1,500 Filipinos joining. Did we request for the results, did we send our researchers to study what’s already been completed?

One of our overseas Filipino workers, Lizette Babilonia, shared in a Facebook post: “We are based in the UAE and the government is administering free Sinopharm jab to all its residents since last year. Haven’t heard of any complaints so far. We are thankful to be residents of the UAE. We should first exercise due diligence, research as much as we can and even ask authorities who could back up with rightful information para (so that) we could decide accordingly. Hindi po ‘yung colonial mentality agad (Colonial mentality should not in any way figure in any decision we would make).”

Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso announced his willingness to take the Sinovac vaccine in public after President Widodo’s televised jab. This shows the pressure faced by local government agencies and that they too can take a page from the resolve of other leaders. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel!

Inaccurate and biased Western information again

Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank, did not report that China by January 2020 already raised alarm about a new virus strain, published the whole genome sequence of the then nCoV and had a WHO inspection team visit Wuhan, among other efforts, to inform the world. It is true that governments may not be completely transparent especially in the onset of crises, but to impose different standards for one while the rest are given ‘free-passes’ is counter-productive to the vital need of a whole-of-humanity approach. While Lowy’s ranking of countries for their pandemic performance excluded China “due to lack of publicly available data,” did it consider that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Redford himself admitted in a congressional hearing that the US actually misdiagnosed Covid deaths as pneumonia, or that the US threatened hospitals for releasing data, or over 200 US biolabs worldwide are off-limits to WHO inspection, or that the US government lied to the world about the WMD to justify the Iraq invasion that has since killed one million civilians…?

Why didn’t Hontiveros ask the US that donated $18 million worth of smart bombs to donate vaccines instead? Yet she demonizes China’s donation of the vaccine as some kind of “vaccine diplomacy” plot and misleadingly links this to the WPS (West Philippine Sea issue) Indonesia and Malaysia, which also has disputes with China over the South China Sea, also got Chinese vaccines. Are we to insinuate that they gave concessions to China over the maritime row in order to get Chinese vaccines?

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.’s answer highlights that we still have professional technocrats at the helm: “In this pandemic, the global interest of the global common is to save humanity. All countries rally to support each other. Our national interests in the WPS are not being compromised by our cooperation with China, as is the case with our other neighbors.”

We, the people, have to complement the efforts of our government and do our share in stopping the spread of the disease and supporting economic recovery. Our country is suffering its worst postwar economic recession while hurdles in adjusting to virtual learning and overexposure to social media are taking a toll in our youth’s education. 2021 may be the dividing line between countries that can get back on board the train to progress, shift to a high-speed train, or be left behind. An early and successful vaccination program can put the country on that road to revival. For that to happen, the country should heed science, be open and pragmatic in working with as many partners and avoid needless and counterproductive vilification of certain suppliers. Political partisanship should end when pressing national interests like public health and economic recovery are on the line.

“My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins.” Rejoinder: loyalty to humanity!

Austin Ong is a program manager of IDSI and an organizer of Asean networking events. He has assisted the Department of Trade and Industry in helping Filipino entrepreneurs connect with the global economy and taught globalization at De La Salle University.

New Worlds by IDSI aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (

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